Few who watched the Steelers take on the Browns in week one of the 2017 NFL season would consider the result a resounding success for a Pittsburgh offense that’s supposed to be one of the most talented in the league.
What struck me in watching film from this game was the uncharacteristic tendency of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to completely ignore an obviously unfavorable defensive alignment and charge ahead with the play as originally called. We’ll see exactly that in one of the examples below.
Whatever the reasons, the Steelers — and Roethlisberger, in particular — missed several opportunities early in the game to put up positive plays, thus killing drives and any chance at finding rhythm.
1st Quarter, 6:29 Remaining, 3rd & 25, PIT 29
This is a slow-developing play that didn’t need to be. Roethlisberger waits for receiver Eli Rogers to come all the way across from the left-side numbers to beyond the right hash marks. He hits Rogers in stride but, by that time, most of the secondary had keyed in on him as the obvious target.
The missed opportunity here was to hit Le’Veon Bell quickly out of the backfield, while the secondary was still backpedaling. There were three receivers in front of Bell to form a wall. Had the ball gone to Bell and the receivers each blocked the closest defender, Bell could have converted the 25-yard third down attempt.
1st Quarter, 0:22 Remaining, 1st & 10, PIT 25
Oh, what could have been.
Receiver Antonio Brown has a knack for destroying zone coverage. On this play, though, it almost wasn’t necessary, considering the chasm the Browns left in front of him. All he had to do was sit back and watch the coverage fall apart on its own.
Had Roethlisberger noticed, that is.
Chances are, Martavis Bryant was the primary target on this play, and he was open. Almost insultingly open, as if the Browns didn’t care that he was even on the field. Well, considering he dropped a relatively simple, uncontested pass, maybe they knew something we didn’t.
But, if Roethlisberger had glanced right and downfield, he would have seen the World’s Best Receiver running through an area roughly the size of a zip code, completely uncontested. If he hits Brown in stride over the middle, all he has to do at that point is deal with two deep defenders who weren’t within 10 yards of him, anyway. With Brown’s quickness, it’s hard to imagine this not ending in six points, had Roethlisberger been aware.
2nd Quarter, 11:13 Remaining, 1st & 10, PIT 6
This play, along with some other similarly odd circumstances, almost make me wonder if Roethlisberger was under strict orders to not change plays at the line. Because that enormous hole in the secondary is exactly the sort of thing any quarterback in the NFL would love to see in this situation.
It’s begging for play action. A simple hot route call for Smith-Schuster to run a “go”, and a fake handoff to James Conner, and it’s off to the races. Smith-Schuster is well-known for his ability — not to mention desire — to make contested catches. This is tailor-made for the rookie.
And to make it worse, everyone was all-in for the hand-off. Roethlisberger merely needed to plant his feet and lob one up for Smith-Schuster to go find, and then it was nothing but mano y mano from that point on.
Unfortunately, no such change was made at the line, despite the defense making their plans so obvious that my mother — who doesn’t know the difference between a quarterback and a cornerback — would have seen it and declared, “they really ought to go play-action here.” And she never would have even understood the words coming out of her mouth, but she would have intuitively known it was the right thing to do.
Later in the quarter, the Steelers would put together their first of two scoring drives, triggered by a fine, 50-yard catch-and-run by Brown. But any one of these plays could have served to catalyze such a drive and would have demoralized the Browns long before they ever got much momentum on their side. Instead, the Steelers let them hang around, and nearly gave it away. It’s a good thing it was the Browns. They’d better fix these recognition issues this week, before the Minnesota Vikings come to town.